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Singin' the Blues To Mulch or Not to Mulch
A Hail of a Storm That Thug the Slug
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Soil Amending & Planting of Hosta Growing Hostas in Containers
Dividing Hosta  
   
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Southern Hostas

Hostas are hardy in U.S.D.A. zones 3 to 9. That means that generally speaking Hostas will grow from Canada to northern Florida. Hostas will not grow year round in climates that do not experience frost or as houseplants. If grown year round, Hostas will slowly decline and eventually disappear. They need to go dormant and experience temperatures near freezing. This usually means they need to be dormant at least one month where the temperature will remain near or drop below 40F. Even in areas that are included in U.S.D.A. zone 9, this dormant requirement may not be met and Hostas may not thrive. This is a generalization about the genus however.
There are around 40 recognized species of Hostas. They originate in the orient in latitudes generally comparable to those in the hardiness zones listed above. The conditions they grow under are as varied as the genus. Hostas grow naturally in open fields, comparable to our prairies, in moist meadows, on rocky mountain slopes, in forests, and shady mountain woods.
The climates these species grow in are generally a maritime climate. That is they grow in areas near or surrounded by oceans. This maritime climate is usually cooler, damper, and cloudier than that of the general climate in the United States. The U.S being such a large land mass is not affected throughout much of its area by the oceans. It is usually along the coasts of the U.S. that a maritime climate is experienced, and most prevalently in the Pacific Northwest. In order to grow Hostas in the U.S, where the sun is more intense, as it is not blocked by as many clouds, there is not as much rainfall, and the summers are warmer, Hostas are grown in the shade garden.
Even in our gardens shaded from direct sun, the heat is more intense, and the air is generally drier than the natural growing range for Hostas. In the cooler northern part of the country, all Hosta varieties will grow well. It is in the south, where the summer heat is more intense and lasts for longer periods of time that some varieties of Hostas will not perform as well. As a general rule most Hosta species will tolerate the climate conditions of the south. It is however the Hostas with H. sieboldiana and H. 'Tokudama' in their heritage that suffer in the southern heat. In this prolonged and intense heat these plants will not achieve their full potential and will not grow as large. A beautiful large plant one year may come back the next spring just a tiny plant. This is the result of crown rot, which begins in the fall after a long, hot, dry summer.
Unfortunately these two susceptible varieties of Hostas are the parents of many of the large leaved blue Hostas for which the genus is prized. Hostas such as H. sieboldiana 'Elegans', H. 'Tokudama Aureonebulosa', and H. 'Tokudama Flavocircinalis' let you know by their names that they are varieties that do not like the heat. There are a whole host of sports of these that are not as easily determined, such as H. 'Frances Williams' a gold margined sport of H. Sieboldiana 'Elegans', or H. 'Color Glory', a gold centered sport of the same plant. So it helps to know the background of plant when choosing Hosta for the southern garden. When in doubt it is wise to ask the nursery the background of the plant before making a purchase. A nursery knowledgeable of the genus Hosta should be able to at least have access to the information so the purchaser can be provided with it when asked.
Some Hostas are not sports of these but hybrids grown from seed. Some such as H. 'Blue Mammoth' is an H. sieboldiana 'Elegans' seedling that behaves more like H. sieboldiana when grown in the heat of the south. Other hybrids such as H. 'Blue Angel' which is a hybrid of H. sieboldiana 'Elegans' and the species H. montana, will tolerate the southern climate, and will grow large and lush if good cultural practices are implemented. In addition to the large blue Hostas that are so prized, there are smaller varieties with blue leaves that will also grow well in the south. Also several southern growers are working on hybridizing plants that will tolerate the heat and look good all summer. Some large blue Hostas that will perform well in the south include:
'Blue Angel'
'Azure Snow'
'Brigadier'
Some medium sized blue Hostas that will grow well in the south include:
'Halcyon'
'Carolina Blue'
'Fragrant Blue'
'Hillbilly Blues'
'Rhapsody in Blue'
'Elvis Lives'
'Topaz'
'Ultramarine'
'Venetian Blue'
Some small blue Hostas that will grow well in the south include:
'Abiqua Trumpet'
'Baby Bunting'
The south does have varieties that will grow better for them than their northern neighbors. Hostas with fragrant flowers will actually grow larger, and perform better in the warmer southern climate. All Hostas with fragrant flowers derive their fragrance from the species H. plantaginea that grows in southern China, further south than any other Hosta species. It is the original southern Hosta. For information on fragrant Hostas, please read the article on our website "Fragrant Hostas".
Of the thousands of Hosta varieties on the market, most of them will grow well throughout their entire hardiness range. It is only those few mentioned above that will not perform as well. There are varieties however that actually relish the climate of the south. By selecting the best varieties for a climate, a gardener can have Hostas that are lush and beautiful throughout the entire season.

A Singin' The Blues
Ah, that elusive color blue. There are few plants that exhibit a true shade of blue for the garden. Usually what is called blue is a shade of lavender or purple. Also in most plants, the color is in the flower. Since Hostas are noted for their leaf color, they provide a full season of interest rather than a few fleeting weeks of color from flowers. Hostas also have a wide range of plants in an array of sizes, shapes, and textures.

Actually Hosta leaves aren't blue, but the leaves are green with a waxy coating, or bloom on their surface. This wax is produced when new leaves are emerging. Over a period of time however the wax fades from the leaf due to overhead watering, rain, sun exposure, temperature, etc. What's left is the underlying green leaf. This bloom also fades at different times depending on the Hosta variety. Once the bloom is gone, it is not reproduced until new leaves emerge again in spring. A Hosta such as H. 'Blue Umbrellas' emerges with blue-green leaves, but becomes all green by mid June here in northern Illinois. On the other hand H. 'Halcyon' will still appear blue well into August.

Many Hostas have the word "blue" in their name. This is no indication of the intensity of blue coloration, or how long the blue color will last throughout the growing season. Actually some of the best blue leaved Hostas don't have the word blue in their name, H. 'Halcyon' is one example. When plants are registered with the International Registry, a description is required. This description may describe a plant as emerging blue-green, and becoming green. There usually is no determination as to when the waxy bloom fades and the plant becomes all green. This is in part because there are so many variables as to the cause of the bloom fading. In the southern states where temperatures climb faster in the spring, the color will fade earlier than on plants growing in more northerly states. And since the plants emerge in the spring earlier in the south than in the north, this will impact the how long the bloom persists on the leaves. Also placement in the garden can affect the waxy bloom on a Hosta. A Hosta that receives some direct sun exposure will lose the bloom faster than one with no direct sun exposure.

Sometimes color photography does not accurately represent the true color of the leaves, whether accidentally or intentionally. Photos of blue leaved Hostas may appear a royal blue color, or a deep ocean blue. Rest assured however that the leaves will actually be a frosty blue-green.

There are some Hostas that retain the waxy bloom longer, and thus appear blue for a longer time throughout the season. Below is a list of Hostas that retain the blue leaf color throughout much of the summer. This is based on growing conditions here in northern Illinois in dappled sunlight.

H. 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd'
H. 'Azure Snow'
H. 'Big Daddy'
H. 'Blue Seer'
H. 'Blue Ice'
H. 'Carolina Blue'
H. 'Dorset Blue'
H. 'Fragrant Blue'
H. 'Hillbilly Blues'
H. 'Jack of Diamonds-yellow margined
H. 'Krossa Regal'
H. 'Love Pat'
H. 'Pizzaz-white margined
H. 'Regal Splendor'-white margined
H. 'Rhapsody in Blue'
H. 'Robert Frost'-white margined
H. 'Salute'
H. 'Silver Anniversary'
H. 'Silver Bowl'
H. 'Snow Cap'-white margined
H. 'Spilt Milk'-white streaks
H. 'Sunnybrook'-yellow margin
H. 'Tokudama Flavocircinalis-yellow margined
H. 'Topaz'
H. 'Venetian Blue'
H. 'Winfield Blue'

While many Hostas have the word blue in their name, it doesn't mean that the plants will be a particular shade of blue, or the blue color will last the whole season. By understanding what makes a Hosta leaf blue, and how best to grow blue leaved Hostas, the gardener can enjoy this diverse group of plants year round.
A Hail of a Storm
By: Tom Micheletti May 18, 2000.
All I could do that afternoon was watch the hail beat the ground, as I looked out of the window. When the rain subsided, one-inch hail was still strewn over the lawn. The Hostas were shredded! I ran an errand to the store, only to hear on the radio a severe storm was due in my area any moment. As I shopped, the sky darkened, and then opened up. The wind was blowing the rain and more hail, virtually sideways. I had been in white out blizzard conditions where the snow was so heavy you couldn't see ten feet in front of you. I had never seen rain come down so hard it created similar white out conditions. The weatherman reported 60+ miles an hour wind accompanied the storm. Well if the Hostas weren't shredded after the first storm, they certainly were now!

The storm had ended by the time I arrived home. I again surveyed the damages. My beautiful H. 'Sagae', which had been the showpiece of the spring garden, had all of the leaves beaten off of the northeast side, the way from which the wind was blowing. All of the other leaves had been shredded. Further inspection revealed similar damage to virtually all of the Hostas in the garden. The hardest hit were the larger leaved varieties. Only the tiniest of miniatures escaped damage. Some plants had all of the leaves virtually torn off. The photo of H. 'Hyacinthina' is an example of the devastation. (Click here to see Photo 1)

With all of the Hostas in my garden, I decided I couldn't manicure every plant. So I decided to perform an experiment. I cut what remained of the leaves off the H. 'Hyacinthina', to within 3 inches of the ground, and waited to see what would happen. (Click here to see Photo 2)

Low and behold! The plant began regrowing new leaves within 2 weeks, and after one month looked as if there was no damage. The entire plant is currently about three quarters of the size it should be, but looks none the worse for ware.(Click here to see Photo 3)

I performed this experiment on two other Hostas in the same area, and all exhibit similar results. All other Hosta that were not cut back, still look severely battered. All have new growth, but it did not get as tall as the original spring growth, and is hidden beneath the damaged leaves.

So next time hail damages my Hosta garden, I won't go out and cut the plants to the ground. Why? Well because I simply have too many Hostas to take the time to do that. However, if you experience similar devastation, and you have a limited number of Hostas, this is one way to rejuvenate them and help them return to their former glory.

One word of caution, I did not take the lawn mower and mow the Hosta down for several reasons. First, I use metal plant markers, and they would damage the lawn mower blade if hit. Second, if viruses are present, they can be spread from one plant to another from the lawn mower blade. Third, nematodes if present may be spread in a similar fashion. Like wise if using a hedge shears, they should be disinfected in alcohol or a 10% solution of bleach, between cuts to prevent the spread of disease.

I hope you never have to experience this severity of damage on your Hostas. If you do, there are measures that can be employed to return the plants to their former glory. These are tough plants we are growing. Their toughness only belies their beauty.
Hosta Culture

Understanding the seasonal growing cycle of a Hosta plant can aid in the best timing for various cultural needs. The seasonal growing cycle of a Hosta plant begins in northern Illinois in late April. The dark shoots begin to emerge from the soil, elongate and unfurl into the leaves. it is just before this period of foliage growth that a balanced 20-20-20, or 10-10-10 fertilizer should be applied. The next growth spurt takes place in the roots, usually early June in our area. It is at this time a second application of fertilizer should be applied, however with a lower nitrogen and higher phosphorus and potassium content. Care must be taken after the foliage has matured so as not to over fertilize or contact leaves with fertilizer as this may cause them to burn. Also if moisture is in short supply, extra watering may be necessary as Hostas prefer a moist soil.

Realizing these seasonal growth spurts helps in knowing when to divide Hostas. It is best to divide before the root growth begins. However it may be difficult to dig up a large plant and divide it after the foliage matures without damaging some leaves. It is also easier to divide a plant just as the foliage is emerging as it is easier to determine the individual plants. Any time Hostas are divided they should be replanted immediately in soil with ample organic matter, and provided sufficient moisture.

Many Hostas grow leaves and roots all summer and may be given light applications of a balanced fertilizer through mid August. Some Hostas such as H. sieboldiana 'Elegans', and some of its sports such as H. 'Francis Williams', H. 'Great Expectations', and H. 'Color Glory', stop growing in the summer. These plants are native to higher and cooler elevations in their growing range. They are characterized by their larger blue colored leaves. It is not advisable to fertilize these plants after early summer while in their summer dormancy. When in doubt it probably would be best not to fertilize after early summer.

The best way to capitalize on the beauty and lush foliage of a Hosta plant is to improve the soil at planting time, fertilize early in the season, and supply ample moisture when mother nature doesn't.

 
The Poop About Fertilizer

When to fertilize, What kind of fertilizer, how much fertilizer do Hostas need? These are commonly asked questions. For an accurate record of what nutrient needs are deficient in your soil, a soil test should be performed. This can be accomplished through your county extension office, or through a private testing lab. There will be a nominal fee for this service, and complete instructions accompany each test. Caring for the soil by initial preparation, and regular applications of organic matter goes a long way to the health of any plant. More than any fertilizer can accomplish by itself.

The first application of fertilizer should be early spring, just as the Hostas are emerging from their winter dormancy. At this time they require larger amounts of nitrogen as their foliage is expanding. A 20-20-20, or 20-10-10 formula is best early in the spring. After the foliage has fully opened, they will begin to put out root growth, and thus use more potassium. Another application of fertilizer in early summer, lower in nitrogen, such as a 10-20-20 will benefit. Applying fertilizer after the foliage has emerged should be done carefully as fertilizer contacting Hosta leaves may burn small holes from contact with the full strength fertilizer. Any additional applications of fertilizer should terminate by early August, so as not to stimulate new growth late into the season. At the Hosta Patch I don't like to apply fertilizer after the temperatures get too high, but this is just my preference.

What kind of fertilizer depends on whether you use synthetic fertilizers, or strictly organic types. To a Hosta, nitrogen is nitrogen, regardless of what form it is in, and the same goes for phosphorus and potassium, the major nutrients plants need to remain healthy. The 20-20-20 formula mentioned above would be for synthetic blends. Much has been written in the gardening press about what each number in the formula means, and explanations accompany each bag. The brand of fertilizer is not critical as stated above, nitrogen is nitrogen, etc.

There are controlled release fertilizer blends that slowly release nutrients over a 3, 6, or 9 month period. One application in spring is all that is needed. For northern Illinois, a 3, or 6 month blend work best. These fertilizers are encapsulated, and the coating breaks down releasing the right amount of fertilizer depending on temperature and moisture. They are also more expensive than ordinary fertilizers, but considering only one application is necessary, the expense may not be as great.

Organic fertilizers are numerous, and come in many forms. All are derived from natural sources, manures, compost, fish emulsion, sea weed, alfalfa, cottonseed, and blood meals. Formulas and application rates depend on the type of fertilizer. All of them have the benefit of adding organic matter to the soil, something that will greatly enhance any soil type. Most of these are higher in nitrogen, but the nitrogen is released slowly over a period of time. Manures should be composted to avoid over application of nitrogen. Organic fertilizers have the added benefits of increasing the biological activity and health of the soil. As these organic compounds decompose they add humic acids to the soil increasing its microbial activity and helping the nutrient uptake of plants.

The amount of fertilizer applied should be in accordance with the instructions on the package. With compost, or composted manure, a couple of inches applied to the surface of the soil annually is beneficial. Just don't apply manures directly over the base of the plant, try to stay an inch or so away. Also scratching any fertilizer into the top inch of soil will work it down into the root zone sooner, as will watering it into the soil after application. Liquid fertilizers can be applied as a foliar spray, however the benefits are not as long lasting, and must be applied every week or two.

Knowing the proper fertilizer, application rates, and times will enhance the growth of your Hostas, and keep them looking their best all season long.

 
Soil Amending & Planting of Hosta

In the wild Hostas grow in a wide variety of soils, from rocky mountain outcroppings, to lush meadows, to almost marshy wetlands. For the best performance and the most lush foliage growth, Hostas prefer garden soil that is moisture retentive, but well drained. That sounds like a contradiction, however it is possible to achieve.

Regardless of what soil type is in your garden, from heavy clay which most of what northern Illinois has been blessed with, to sandy gravely soils, which a few areas in our region have been given, all soil types will benefit from adding large quantities of organic matter. The organic matter can be any form, compost, rotted manure, rotted sawdust, composted leaves, peat moss, mushroom compost, any form available in large quantities at a reasonable cost or even at an unreasonable cost. Adding large quantities of organic matter improves the moisture retention of the soil, the aeration of the soil, loosens the soils for easy root penetration, and improves the microbial life in the soil, and its general fertility. The more easily the roots are able to penetrate the soil, and have nutrients available the lusher, larger, and faster the plant will grow.

At the Wade and Gatton Nursery, in Bellville Ohio the largest Hosta in the world is growing in heavily amended fertile garden beds. It is one plant of H. 'Sum and Substance', which measures more than four feet high, and over ten feet across! Van Wade, the proprietor's, secret to growing his Hostas to their utmost is large quantities of soil improvements. At the Hosta Patch, I grow my Hostas in mushroom compost. The plants grow faster, and have exceptionally large root systems, and after all a good root system is the heart of a plant.

When planting Hostas in your garden it is always recommended to improve the soil. Dig an extra large hole, the size depends on the ultimate size of the plant. The next thing is to add organic matter to the hole and mix it with the soil. Then add more organic matter. Finally add more organic matter. If your still in doubt add a little extra organic matter. By now there's no longer a hole, but a hill on which to plant that Hosta. Remember some Hostas are used to growing on mountains. Remove the plant from the container and shake most of the soil from the roots. This is so you are able to loosen the roots and spread them out. With the roots spread out in a fan pattern, cover them with more soil that has been amended, to the level the plant was growing in the container. Water the plant well, then stand back and watch the plant explode into luxurious growth. Enjoy these plants to their fullest.

 
Dividing Hostas

Contrary to common belief, Hostas do not need regular division to keep them healthy and vigorous. Actually the less they are divided, then the more their mature beauty can be enjoyed. If they are frequently divided, the plants may not fully mature, as it takes three to five years for an individual division to show its full mature character.

There are a few reasons to divide Hostas however: If the plant has outgrown its space in the garden, dividing can bring the plant back to the desired size. (plant it in a location that accommodates its mature size.) You may want more of that particular plant, dividing increases numbers. After many years in the same location, some Hostas may begin to die out in the center, creating a ring of actively growing plants around a dead center. Digging up the plant and removing the actively growing plants and discarding the dead center will rejuvenate the plant, and increase numbers.

When dividing a plant, the entire plant can be dug up, and as much of the soil as possible shaken or washed off the roots with a sharp spray from a hose. With the roots exposed it is easier to determine each individual plant. The clump may be twisted, tugged, and pulled or forked apart, separating the individual plants. If the plant is a tightly congested mass, a sharp knife may be needed to cut each crown apart, and carefully pulling the roots apart so as not to break them off. The crown is the portion of the plant where the leaves join the roots, and there may be many on a large clump. The separation of each individual crown with roots will result in one plant. If larger clumps are desired, then several crowns may be left together in a clump. There may be damage to some crowns, but the majority will develop into a larger plant. It may not always be necessary to dig the entire clump from the ground. If only one additional plant is desired, then the soil can be dug from one side of an existing plant, and a clump of the desired size can be cut off with a sharp knife.

Hostas can be divided any time the soil can be worked. The important thing to remember is after replanting to supply enough moisture to keep the plant actively growing. Dividing in early spring before leaves emerge is a good time to divide as there will not be mature foliage that can be damaged. If dividing in spring, the plant may take the rest of the season to recover from the shock of dividing. If dividing in late summer/early fall, damage still may occur to mature foliage, but the plant will have time to reestablish before winter sets in, and will emerge as though undisturbed in the spring. Also if dividing after the foliage matures, existing leaves may flop over and wilt, but new leaves will emerge from the crown. If leaves flop open, just cut off the old leaves, which makes the plant look better.

Enjoy the beauty of these beautiful plants by dividing and increasing their numbers for you garden or sharing with friends.

 
The Sunny Side of Hostas

So you live in a new subdivision with few mature trees. You say last summers storm blew down a mature oak that was shading your property. You think you have too much light to grow Hostas. Well think again! While Hostas do prefer some shade from the hot afternoon sun, they can withstand more sun than they are sometimes given credit. While full sunshine will not kill Hostas, it sure can make them look bad. The leaves become all burnt and brown. Hostas that are used to growing in higher levels of light will have smaller and more leaves than those growing in deeper shade. If it's large lush leaves you want then grow them in more shade.

The amount of sun exposure a Hosta will tolerate depends on several factors. Since Hostas have large leaves, they transpire large amounts of moisture. Improving the soil with large quantities of organic matter will enable the plants to have a ready supply of moisture available. Supplying moisture to the plants before signs of stress appear will keep the plants looking fresh. Using an organic mulch helps the soil remain cool and moist. Providing shade from the sun during the hottest period of the day, usually from noon to 4pm also helps keep them looking good. Shade can be provided by planting on the north or east side of a house, shrubs, or tall ornamental grasses. Building an arbor for climbing vines and planting Hostas beneath provides shade. Use your imagination to find and create afternoon shade.

So now we have a few places we can take advantage of the season long interest provided by the colorful Hosta foliage. Which ones perform best in higher light situations? As a general rule the blue Hostas do need more shade to look their best. H. 'Fragrant Blue is a small blue that will tolerate more light. By and large the golds will tolerate higher amounts of light. Some excellent choices are H. 'Sun Power', H. 'Zounds', H. 'Gold Drop', H. 'Gold Edger', H. 'Sum and Substance', H. 'August Moon', and H. 'Sea Dream'. The fragrant Hostas, either sports or hybrids from H. plantaginea, also known as the August Lily, with shiny light green leaves and 5" long white very fragrant flowers in August, tolerate quite a bit of sun. H. 'Ming Treasure' with gold margined leaves, and H. plantaginea 'Aphrodite' with double flowers, are both sports. Some excellent hybrids are, H. 'Fragrant Bouquet', the 1998 Hosta of the year, and H. 'So Sweet', the 1996 Hosta of the year as selected by the American Hosta Growers Association. H. 'Guacamole', H. Royal Standard, H. 'Hoosier Harmony, H. 'Summer Fragrance', H. 'Sweetie', H. 'Sugar and Cream' are other fragrant Hostas that will tolerate more light. The white variegation on some Hostas will burn with too much light, so caution should be exercised when siting these plants.

Go ahead plant that Hosta in a sunny position. If you provide the optimum growing conditions, and select the appropriate varieties, you can enjoy the colorful Hostas all season long.

 
To mulch or not to mulch!

That is the question! Mulching of our garden has many benefits, it helps control weeds, by shading the soil and blocking light so weed seeds won't germinate. It helps keep soil moist by shading it. It also adds precious organic matter to the soil as the mulch breaks down. While the benefits of mulch greatly outweigh the drawbacks, some problems can be enhanced by the addition of a mulch.

Mainly, mulch provides a hiding place for pests and diseases. If you do not have pest and disease problems, then by all means mulch away! If your Hostas are being eaten by slugs, then these pests are most likely hiding in the mulch. Removing the mulch and cultivating the soil, once a week until the ground freezes, as described previously, will greatly reduce slug populations.

Only organic mulches will add nutrients to the soil as they decompose. Thus they must be replenished periodically. How often depends on the type of mulch used, and how quickly it decomposes. The longest lasting organic mulches are shredded bark, followed by wood chips. Other organic mulches would be leaves (preferably shredded), sawdust, grass clippings (free of herbicides), or compost. All of these provide the benefits described above. Since organic matter is being depleted in the soil by plants, it is necessary to replenish it. As a mulch decomposes, it is incorporated into the soil by earthworms and other soil organisms.

Inorganic mulches consist of black plastic, weed fabrics, and gravel. None of these provide the benefits of an organic mulch. In my opinion they create more problems in the future. Plastic deteriorates with exposure to sunlight and becomes torn and shredded over time. Usually weed fabrics are covered with organic wood chips, which decompose over time. Weed seeds fall into this rich environment and germinate. The weeds send out roots which penetrate the weed fabric. When trying to pull the weed, the fabric is pulled up with it as the fine roots have grown through the fabrics mesh. The fabric prevented weeds from germinating under it, but not on above it. Gravel collects organic debris, such as leaves, grass clippings, and settles into the soil.

At The Hosta Patch, I use shredded leaves as a mulch around the Hostas. I apply the leaves in the fall 4 to 6 inches thick, and don't remove it in the spring. I leave it on all summer. As it decomposes over the summer it is incorporated back into the soil, as nature intended.

 
That Thug the Slug

Ah, that perennial question! What's eating holes in the leaves of my Hosta? By mid summer they're all chewed full of holes, and look terrible (rest assured, this won't kill the Hosta they're tough plants, it just makes them look ratty for that season.) Well it's slugs chewing all those holes in the Hosta leaves. These dreadful creatures even have a loathsome name! If there are a lot of holes, then there are probably a lot of slugs! The common culprit in our area, is a grayish tan creature about one half inch long and about as big around as a pencil. It has two antenna on its head and is very slimy. It looks like a snail that lost its shell. In fact, it is related to the snail. They are active at night and on cloudy days, chewing all those holes in the leaves of our favorite plants. Telltale signs are the slime trails, shiny squiggly lines, they leave behind as they crawl across the ground. Slugs reproduce by laying eggs, up to 50 in a clutch. Slugs are active when nighttime temperatures are above 50 F, and there is ample moisture, either from rainfall or watering. It's a good case for watering early in the day! They also like a damp, dark daytime hiding places, beneath leaf litter, mulches, dense ground covers, etc. By cultivating soil around plants the eggs can be destroyed, reducing slug populations. Also a good cleanup in the fall will reduce the amount of eggs over-wintering in plant debris.

If you go out at night with a flashlight and a bucket of soapy water, you can hand pick them from your Hosta leaves, and drown them in the bucket; they aren't good swimmers! Check the undersides of the leaves carefully. This can become a daunting task as there can be many generations to contend with. It is also not for the squeamish handling those slimy little creatures. You could wear rubber gloves, or use tweezers. Some gardeners just suck the slugs off the leaves of their plants with a 'Dust Buster' hand held vacuum cleaner, then dispose of their catch by emptying the bag into the soapy water. Another remedy is to get a can of beer (any brand will do, slugs aren't fussy) and pour some into all those little margarine tubs we have gathering around the house. Cut a few holes in the tops, so the slugs can get in, and use the tops to deflect any water from rain or sprinkling. If there's any beer left, drink it for courage before going into battle. Sink the tubs up to their rim in the garden. Slugs attracted by the yeast will fall in the tubs and drown; they aren't good swimmers, remember. The beer will have to be changed every few days to freshen the solution. Also pour the contents onto the ground, because other slugs are attracted by the dead bodies of their own kind. If your slugs aren't old enough to drink yet, you can mix a concoction from two tablespoons of flower, one teaspoon of yeast, one teaspoon of sugar, to two cups of water. It should give similar results, with great taste and is less filling!

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it is. After all, this is a war were talking about here! These beasties are eating our favorite plants. Time to pull out the rest of the arsenal! You can also lay boards, or tightly rolled-up damp newspaper on the ground, check them every morning and scrape the hiding slugs into your bucket of soapy water. Melon and grapefruit rinds, inverted plastic flower pots, or anything that supplies that damp dark environment will attract slugs to hide during the daytime. Also slugs do not like copper. It gives them a shock. Barriers made of pure copper, or copper flashing at least three inches wide are effective. It can be expensive to surround large beds with copper, but a few prized specimen plants could be surrounded with copper barriers. Another effective control is diatomaceous earth. This is the finely ground shells of ancient sea creatures. It is available at garden centers and is a fine powder that can be sprinkled on the plants and ground. As slugs crawl over the powder it scratches their soft bodies and the slugs die from dehydration. Care must be used when spreading the fine powder so as not to breath the dust as this can irritate the mucous membranes in our bodies as well. Eye protection and a dust mask should be worn as a safety precaution. Diatomaceous earth will have to be reapplied after a rainfall or sprinkling. Another reported remedy in the arsenal is spraying the leaves with a dilute solution (4:1 or even weaker) of household ammonia and water. Experiment with dilution rates and test different plants on only one leaf before broad applications are made. Ammonia is a source of nitrogen which may burn the leaves of plants. Another nitrogen remedy is a light application of ammonium nitrate on the soil surface around each plant. It must be reapplied after rain or sprinkling. It is a form of fertilizer available in garden centers, and care must be used so over application is not made, and burning is not caused. Also application of high nitrogen fertilizers late in the season is not be recommended, as it could cause tender new growth that may be damaged by an early frost.

Time to call in the reinforcements! Toads, ground beetles, lightening bug larve, garter snakes, moles, shrews, and wrens all prey on slugs. These are natural means of slug control, and will also be affected if you resort to chemicals. Chickens, ducks, and geese are also effective if you have a country location that permits keeping them. It has been reported that a slug eating nematode (a microscopic worm that doesn't harm plants) is being tested in Great Britain, and is showing some promise. Nematodes won't be available for a few years though.

If all else fails it may be necessary to resort to chemicals. Various slug baits are available from garden centers. The active ingredient in these baits is methaldehyde. It paralyzes slugs after they ingest it. They are unable to crawl for shelter after the sun comes up, and they die from dehydration. If the weather is cool and rainy however, the slugs may not be affected as much and may survive an otherwise lethal dose. Another chemical is methiocarb, sold commercially as Measurol. This is highly toxic to humans (it has been taken off the market, but may still be lurking in some peoples chemical storehouse), and should be used carefully, and not around food crops. It is also toxic to earthworms and other creatures, as well as pets, who sometimes ingest poisons not meant for them. Any chemical-laden slugs should be disposed of so as not to accidentally harm other animals like birds, or our group of reinforcements we called out to help earlier. Overuse of chemicals can be a serious problem, and various populations of slugs can become resistant to them over time. Always use chemicals carefully and follow all directions and safety precautions.

There are some Hosta that are more slug resistant. That is slugs don't find them as palatable! They are the Hosta with thicker, heavier leaves, sometimes referred to as substance. By intermixing these in our Hosta beds we offer a less tantalizing meal for our enemy.

Slugs eat many type of garden plants, both ornamentals and vegetables. The same solutions can be applied to many of them, except the use of chemicals on food plants. The best solution is a natural balance of predator and prey. It is nice to know however there are solutions to fall back on when the balance gets out of hand. If worse comes to worse we can hope for a drought. You may have noticed slugs are not as big a problem in years with less rainfall, but then without having to fight our battle with the slug what would we do with all that extra gardening time? Well now! About all those weeds in my Hosta beds!

 
Colorful Variegated Leaves

Hostas are noted for their brightly colored variegated leaves. They come in many variegated patterns. They may have green or blue leaves with a gold or white margin, or the variegated pattern may be reversed with the light color in the center of the leaf. They also have leaves that are streaked with gold, white and green patterns. But where do these multi- colored patterns come from?

Some variegated Hostas arise as sports, or mutations from other Hostas. A green Hosta may be growing happily for many years in one location then all of a sudden one division may arise variegated. Other Hostas may sport in the tissue culturing process. Tissue culture is a process of reproducing many plants from a few cells of a parent plant. Each new plant will be identical to the parent. In the process of reproducing thousands of new plants in nutrient rich solutions the probability of mutation increases and sports occur with variegated leaves, otherwise the characteristics of the both plants are the same, such as leaf shape and size, flower time, and color, etc. The only difference in both cases is the leaf has sported a variegated pattern.

Some variegated Hostas arise from breeding programs undertaken by Hosta enthusiasts. The chance of a variegated Hosta originating from an open pollinated (the bees did it) plant are extremely small. Hybridizers use their favorite plants, those known to give a higher percentage of variegated seedlings, and cross pollinate them with plants that have a characteristic they are looking for. Just because a Hosta has variegated leaves does not mean it will have variegated seedlings. Usually a Hosta with streaked leaves will have a higher percentage of variegated seedlings, and the streaked plant must be the pod parent, the female plant.

Variegation is not a trait that is passed along in the nucleus of a cell. It is not part of the DNA of a plant. Variegation occurs in the chloroplasts of the leaf, the structures of a plant cell that contain the green chlorophyll which converts the energy from the sun into food for the plant. It is a mutation process that prevents chlorophyll from forming in the tip of a new shoot.

It is more complicated than that but that's a very brief explanation of why we have so many beautifully variegated Hostas. I'm glad we do have these brightly colored plants to brighten up our shade gardens with season long interest.

For an in depth study into where variegation comes from, the two best resource books are:

The Hosta Book, by Paul Aden, Timber Press, Portland Oregon, 1988

The Genus Hosta, by George Schmid, Timber Press. Portland Oregon,1991

 
Fragrant Hosta

Traditionally late summer is when the fragrant Hostas bloom, perfuming the air with their intoxicating fragrance. The species from China, Hosta plantaginea is the only original fragrant Hosta. It is also known as the August lily as it blooms at this time of year. Its flowers are very large up to five inch long, pure white trumpets with an intoxicating fragrance. The plant is large about two feet high and 5 feet wide, with large heart shaped, shiny light green leaves. This is also one Hosta that will take quite a bit of sun, about three quarters of the day. Actually more sun helps it bloom more profusely.

There are many Hosta cultivars that have resulted from breeding programs using H. plantaginea as one of the parents, and it has passed along its fragrance. The following list represents some of the fragrant Hostas many of which are available on our list:

 

H. 'Aphrodite'- 24" high by 60" wide, a double flowered form of H. plantaginea
H. 'Royal Standard'-26" high by 50" wide, green oval leaves, white flowers in August.
H. 'Hoosier Harmony'- 24" high by 50" wide. A sport of H. 'Royal Standard' with gold leaves with a green margin, and the same white flowers
H. 'Prairieland Memories'-An all gold sport of H. 'Royal Standard', with the same white flowers.
H. 'Honeybells'-26" high by 50" wide, long green leaves, with lavender flowers.
H. 'Sugar and Cream'-a sport of H.' Honeybells' with a cream margin.
H. 'Sweet Standard'-a sport of H. 'Sugar and Cream' with leaves streaked with white.
H. 'So Sweet'-22" high by 50" wide, oval green leaves with a white margin, near white flowers.
H. 'Fragrant Bouquet'-18" high by 24" wide, with heart shaped, light green leaves with a creamy white margin, large white flowers.
H. 'Guacamole'- 24" high by 54" wide, a sport of H. 'Fragrant Bouquet' with a light green leaf that has a green margin.
H. 'Summer Fragrance'-25" high by 55" wide, large heart shaped leaves with a white margin, lavender flowers held high above foliage in August.
H. 'Fragrant Blue'-18" high by 45" wide, with powdery blue leaves, near white flowers in July.
H. 'Austin Dickinson'- 19" high and 48" wide, with heart shaped green leaves with a white margin and purple flowers
H. 'Emily Dickinson'-17" high by 40" wide, with heart shaped leaves with a wide white margin, and lavender flowers.
H. 'Iron Gate Delight'- 16" high by 20" wide with pointed leaves with a wide cream margin with lavender flowers in August.
H. 'Iron Gate Glamour'- 28" high by 30" wide, heart shaped leaves with a white margin. Pale lavender flowers in July.
H. 'Sweet Bo Peep'- 18" high by 40" wide. Smooth round dark green leaves with slightly rippled margin. Pale lavender flowers in August.
H. 'Sweet Sunshine'- 14" high by 24" wide, with cupped, puckered, round gold leaves. White flowers in July.
H. 'Sweetie'-20" high by 50" wide. Heart shaped chartreuse leaves with a cream margin, and lavender flowers in August.

Plant them in soil that has been enriched with organic matter, near a path or doorway and enjoy their intoxicating fragrance.

 
Growing Hostas in Containers

Hostas can be successfully grown in containers. Advantages are the plants can be moved around to change the arrangement, and reposition pots to take advantage of bloom times. They also give season long interest with their colorful foliage.

The containers can be anything that will hold soil. The important consideration is that it must have adequate drainage. The size of the container should be commensurate with the mature size of the plant. Young plants should be planted in smaller containers. As the plants grow larger, they should be transplanted into larger pots, until the ultimate size is reached. Placing a couple inches of Styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of very large containers makes them lighter in weight, and more portable.

The planting mix should retain moisture, but drain well so as not to rot the plant. At The Hosta Patch, Hostas are planted in a commercial soiless mix formulated with peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. This mix retains moisture, but also drains enough to allow the roots to get oxygen.

Containerized plants must be watered every day or two in hot weather. It is not necessary to have saucers collect water under the pots. They will also need regular fertilizing, as nutrients quickly leech away with regular watering. Fertilizer can be applied with every watering at one quarter to one half the recommended strength, or a time release fertilizer can be applied at the beginning of the season.

The plants need a period of dormancy for the winter. Containers must not be left outdoors for the winter, or the plants will rot. The containers should be placed in a location that drops to at least between 30 and 40 degrees, and away from overhead moisture. An unheated garage or porch is ideal. They should not be allowed to dry out completely either. Check them about once a month. If the soil is dry, a very light watering is all that is needed.

Potted Hostas will begin to grow earlier than plants in the ground, so a periodic check as the weather warms up will be needed. If the plants begin to grow, they must not be placed outside until danger of frost is past. They may be placed outside during the day, or when temperatures remain above freezing, and brought into a protected spot if frost is forecast.

Growing Hostas in pots can be a rewarding way to enjoy this diverse group of plants.

   

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